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“Stick with me baby I’m the fella’ you came in with
Luck be a lady tonight,”
I asked a girl to go out and have some lunch with me. It wasn’t a movie moment or anything like that with eighties music softly playing in the background as we blushed at each other. I just know her pretty well and…and she’s nice.
We ate at a food court because we went to a mall. I thought that cruising around there would be a great way for us to get to know each other. I thought we’d talk and window shop and just see where it went. What has she learned about me so far?
She’s learned that I like pizza and lizards. She’s learned that I’m a Pisces and that I’m afraid of bovines. She’s learned that I used to work at a wood processing plant because my uncle owned it. She knows that I quit because I hate splinters. She knows that my favorite day is Wendsday because it has seven letters in it. She knows that I hate it when you have a puzzle piece that looks like it should fit in a certain place but just won’t.
What do I know about her? I know that she’s had those sandals for a while because there are smooth black footprints in them. I know that she likes to run because her leg muscles are taunt and smooth. They’re…they’re kind of pretty. Well…uh…anyway I know that she has green eyes. I know that she has red hair and I know her clothes are from a thrift store and that somehow I really like that. I know that she doesn’t buy or at least use make up.
I know she doesn’t talk very much.
However I’m not sure whether I’m annoying her, boring her or if I’m just not there. I suggested Panda Express for lunch. She said she didn’t care.
“How about you find us a table while I get the food?” I said cheerfully.
While I was waiting in line I had this nervey little vision. I saw myself returning, my arms laden with food, and finding no one there. The me in my vision ran nervously but hopefully around and around the food court. Asking random strangers if they’d seen her and growing more nervey as they stalked off muttering about rudeness or weirdness. I saw the hour hand crawl from 1 to 3…to 5. Then I was gently escorted out by security, still with that goofy crushed look on my face. This 30 second daymare passed and when I came back she was still there. (to be honest I breathed a sigh of miraculous relief) She was just standing where I left her so I found us a table. I handed her her food, she didn’t open it.
“Not hungry?” I said with a stickful of lo mein halfway to my mouth.
She didn’t say anything. But that was okay because she didn’t sigh or shift away either. I think she didn’t see any point in saying what one could obviously see. I don’t think she is quite as afraid of silence as the rest of us. She doesn’t suffer from that maniac compulsion to fill the air with exhaled thoughts just to keep the subconscious quiet. She isn’t afraid of those questions hiding in the back of her brain. Is there a God? Will I ever get married? Will I ever get to draw when I’m working and studying at college? These little jack in the box subconscious queries seem to be particularly prevalent when you’re eighteen. When you’re in the last days of adolescence and the future is coming at you like a spiked iron fist. We ate, she opened her rice a little, for a couple of minutes. I tried to talk, to not screw up.
“Do you come around here often?”
“I see…guess you’re not really all that materialistic huh? He he.” Jesus I’m a dork.
She looked at me and shook her head once…twice. The arc her chin travels is perfect.
“That is great you know. Way too many people are extremely uh commercial. They make their whole lives about buying and saving and borrowing. Everything’s about money isn’t it?”
Nods. I think for a minute.
“Do you ever watch T.V. ?”
Another dead end.
I thought I’d listen to her with my eyes. Take hints of approval or warnings of disdain from breaths, sighs, the sideways shift of her eyes, rolling her fingers on the soft curve of her elbow, tapping her foot in the air after she crossed her legs. I was silent as we talked, as I tried to convey my feelings in the way she chose to communicate. I leaned forward with my chin placed gently on the palm of my hand, my brow slightly furrowed. I was amazed by how much I understood even though she only opened her mouth to admit a grain of rice.
“You’d rather be somewhere else I bet.”
“I’d show more curiosity in you but I just don’t feel there’s that much to learn.” She said softly.
Even though what she was saying was hurtful and cruel, the sound of her voice still made my ears sizzle. At the same time I wished a little that I was deaf so that I could read the subtle movements of her soft pink lips.
“I ummm…wha-what especially do you find wrong with me?”
“I don’t find anything especially wrong with you. I can’t find anything at all. Do you understand?”
I shook my head, she slightly tilted hers.
“You just don’t…fit in me. You get it?”
I set my chopsticks down. I could feel my cheeks flaming with the blood of embarrassment. Her eyes suddenly widened and she shook her head very violently.
“Whoa whoa that is not what I meant.”
“I am not like that.”
“I didn’t think you were.”
“I just wanted to make sure.”
We sat a moment. She said sorry with her body. Gazing downward with her eyes, chewing the ends of her chopsticks. I accepted by shrugging. Then she began to talk with her mouth again.
“Do you remember when you said that you really hated it when you had a puzzle piece that looked like it should fit but doesn’t?”
I nodded, she pointed at me.
“You are the new puzzle piece.”
“Okay.” I said, she pointed to herself.
“And I am the adjacent piece that you don’t quite fit to.”
“So you’re saying we don’t have anything in common.”
“But…but I’m an artist! And so are you…”
“You draw pictures of Garfield over and over again.”
“But what about all that stuff I told you? Wasn’t there anything there?”
“I’m sorry but just because you’re talking doesn’t mean you’re saying anything, or anything that matters.”
Another silence. It wasn’t fair. I had barely had a chance. How could my goddess be so cruel?
Its so strange having to pitch yourself like this. Its something I think that most girls don’t quite understand. I’m not saying that girls have it easy. In fact if girls have anything it most certainly is not easy. Its just the way it usually goes is the guy comes up to the girl and has to justify why she should spend any time on him. It really isn’t all that disimilar from rams butting heads or birds dancing. Its silly, childish and I find myself doing it again and again, kind of like picking my nose. I did have one last card to play. I reached into my pocket.
“I have something to give you.”
She shook her head.
“No really this is important.” I placed a small crinkled envelope on the table and pushed it to her. She took it and opened it, partially withdrawing a couple of brightly colored pieces of paper with her first two fingers.
“Whats this? Foreign money?”
“It’s from Maylasia.”
“I want you to understand… You know how that currency is essentially useless here right?”
“It…it doesn’t fit here. Here you can’t buy anything with it. But its still money, its worthless here but in the right environment its vital.”
She stared at me with those emerald angel eyes. Then they fell down to the bright pink slips.
“So even though its useless to you now you should…you should hang on to it. Keep it it somewhere safe and file it in the back of you’re mind. Just in case you need it someday.”
She pushed the money back into the envelope with her index finger and then gently folded it in her hand.
“Thanks again.” She whispered.
That was pretty much it. I took her home after that.
I find myself thinking about a moment earlier in our date. We where in this eastern shop where they sell Asian stuff. Chopsticks, samurai swords, silk dresses things like that. I thought it was fun and she…well she calmly evaluated it in that same softly beautiful way she does everything else. When she was sorting through different flavors of inscence I tapped her on the shoulder. When she turned around I held what I had at eye level to show it to her. It was a love meter.
A love meter is two glass bulbs, one rotund one on the bottom and a pointed one on top, connected by a curling glass tube. Inside the bottom bulb is a colored solution of some kind. The idea is that you grasp the bottom bulb and if you’re in love the solution boils and pushes up into the higher bulb. As I held it the solution became a frothy tempest raging in the top bulb. I invited her to try it out. She declined. I…I think I sort of saw the conversation in the food cour coming right then. So I went over and bought some authentic Maylasian currency. I thought she might find it cute or romantic or…oh I don’t know.
God I’m such a jackass. It seems so stupid now. The huge buildup to asking her out, scrupulously cleaning myself before picking her up, buying a new brand of cologne. So anticlimactic, so ephemeral, so fruitless…so painful. Its moments like this when you wonder why exactly you bother. You stop brushing you’re teeth and dress in the same shirt for three days in a row. It sounds stupid and it is. But it’s the sort of thing you find yourself doing when you’re shot down. If you’re best isn’t enough, why even try?
I took her home. On the way the car was silent, we didn’t even talk with our bodies. I was focusing ridiculously hard on driving, I think for the first time in my life I stopped at every stop sign, made every turn signal and stayed ten m.p.h under the speed limit. And she withdrew into herself, going as far away from me as possible without jumping out of the car. When I stopped and she opened the door she turned to look at me. This wasn’t her usual casual evaluation, she was stairing straight on through me.
“Bye.” She whispered and got out. I went home.
Minutes became hours and hours days, days weeks. But every second of it was as excruciatingly long as a decade of torture in the Bastille. By the time she called two weeks had gone by and I had thought of 32 different ways to kill myself, 20 places to run away too, 14 new identities to assume, and 30,000 much cooler things I could have said on our date.
“Hi.” She said.
“Oh hello!” I said, privately shaming myself for being so enthusiastic.
“How are you?”
“I’m great now. How are you doing?”
“So uh…what’re you up to? Where are you?”
I had a very strong feeling that she was smiling. Because for a single moment the world seemed to brighten somehow.
“I’m in Maylasia.” She said.
“I’m in Maylasia.” A little louder, but not annoyed.
“What do you mean? Are you…”
“I mean that umm I could use the money you gave me now.”
I remembered and I understood.
“I see. Cool.”
“Could you excuse me for a second?”
I clasped my hand over the speaker and…I’ll admit it…danced.
“Great! Umm may I ask you why you changed you’re mind?”
“Well…you’re sincere…and cute…”
I jumped and thrust my fist in the air.
“And I really don’t like cows either.”
Than the most beautiful, most wondrous thing in the world happened.